Physical Media

This past year I’ve been doing something I didn’t think I’d be doing again. After getting rid of all of my CDs, DVDs, books and anything else that wasn’t bolted down, I’ve been re-buying many of them.

Whilst streaming can be great for discovering things you might have missed, it’s all too easy for an album or song to disappear from your chosen streaming platform when you just need to listen to it again.

Compact discs…

I started buying CDs in the early 90s. The first one I ever bought was Megadeth’s “Youthanasia”. It was a great album and, because I was relying on pocket money at the time, it was my only CD for a very long time.

I played that CD to death. Well, when I say to death, I mean to the point where I couldn’t face listening to it again –and I still can’t some 30 years later. The CD was completely unharmed and would still work today if I hadn’t minimised it.

Some months ago, I wanted to listen to Type O Negative’s last album, “Dead Again”. I went onto Apple Music, searched for it in my library and there it was, greyed out. “Sorry, this album is no longer on Apple Music”. Really? Why?

September Sun

Well, between the release of “Life is Killing Me” and “Dead Again”, the band changed record label and for whatever reason, Dead Again disappeared from streaming services for a while. It has come back again, but mostly because there are still members of the band still around to maintain its legacy. Pete may no longer be with us, but Kenny and Johnny are doing some great work with Silvertomb.

However, we are talking about relatively recent albums here. What will become of much older works that are left to the mercy of record labels and the estates of deceased bandmembers? If you have the CD (or vinyl) you no longer have to worry about it. What about bands that released one great album and then disappeared?

The 90s was a fertile ground for niche metal bands. Drain, Face Down, Pissing Razors –many of them riffing on trends established by the bigger acts of the time. Face Down were often called a Machine Head tribute act; Drain toured with Fear Factory during the Demanufacture tour but sounded rather like Dirt-era Alice in Chains; and Pissing Razors followed the double-bass orientated groove-metal style of Fear Factory.

Drain’s “Horror Wrestling” has completely disappeared; Face Down are still around, but “Mindfield” isn’t; and Pissing Razors’ self-titled album has just returned to streaming services and the band is still around and producing music.

Music aside, there is a lot to be said for having a little booklet of artwork and lyrics to read through on the trip home from the shop. Having a disc that sounds great and will last for decades is also a bonus. So, how do you have the convenience of streaming with the security of physical media?

Plex

Plex is a service that you can run on a NAS (network attached storage). You load it up with your mp3 or FLAC files; any movies you’ve bought from places like Vimeo On Demand; install the apps on your phone, streaming TV box etc and just start listening.

It also means that if you’ve bought anything on Bandcamp, such as some classic vaporwave or mallsoft you can stream them from Plex as well.

If you want to sync music to your devices for offline play you’ll need to shell out the £4 per month for Plex Pass, but with that you also get access to a load of very niche movies –mostly B-movie horror flicks from the 80s.

Of course, there are downsides to rolling your own streaming service. For starters you’re going to have to deal with the maintenance involved in running a NAS. There are going to be periodic firmware and app updates to contend with. I have a QNAP NAS and most firmware updates remove the SSL certificate you use when you login to the server’s back end. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a nuisance.

You also have to deal with power outages. Removing power from a NAS suddenly is rarely a good idea and you’ll have to wait for it to do a thorough check when you turn the power back on. A UPS (uninterruptable power supply) is on the shopping list.

Plex also releases software updates regularly, which usually have to be done manually as the version on QNAP’s own app store is much older than the current version.

The upside is that I have plenty of space for all of my music, camera RAW files, scanned 35mm negatives (massive TIFF files); GoPro footage and anything else I produce over the next few years. If the worst happens and I lose my files, I still have the discs to fall back on.

St David's Day

Film…

I’ve long considered myself quite fortunate that I was born at a time when everyone shot film and I was well into adulthood when digital came along. My first digital camera was a Fuji Finepix A204 with a whopping 2 megapixels.

However, after a string of digital SLRs I picked up a film one back in 2012 –a Nikon F80. It cost the princely sum of £50 from London Camera Exchange and it’s fantastic. It takes two CR123 batteries that last for months (literally, not figuratively) and it does everything you’d want a camera to do. Pair that with a negative scanner and you’re set –providing you can find a lab that still processes film. Sadly I got back into it too late for Kodachrome. I’d love to have shot some of that, for those amazing bold reds you’ll see in the works of Saul Leiter, Ernst Haas and Fred Herzog.

You may groan, but there’s a lot to be said for waiting until you’ve finished a roll to see what you’ve got, then going through the process of getting them scanned and put up on Flickr. It’s exciting in a way that digital often isn’t.

Yes, it may appear more expensive if you shoot a lot, but you have to take the cost of the camera into account, plus the ever-present push to upgrade. A £50 SLR, a £100 50mm F1.8 and a roll of whichever film you want to use. It leaves plenty of change for processing, batteries and more film.

On the other hand, I have hard drives full of files of digital photos that I’ll probably never publish –shots I’ve taken in the hope they might work out. They didn’t, but yet they still sit on a drive somewhere.

Vinyl

Yes, digital content is certainly convenient, but it’s easy and often forgettable as experiences go.

Sometimes things need to be a challenge, sometimes you need to spend time working out the kinks; sometimes you need to remember the journey there, not just arriving.

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